I watched over 100 people die violent celluloid deaths today. It may have got to me. 67 of those died by bullet, knife, bomb, piano wire and/or chopsticks in Takeshi Kitano’s new film Brother.
This is actually the first time I’ve watched a Takeshi Kitano film. Gasps of shock, shaking of heads, tuts of tut-tut. Calls himself an Asian film reviewer and has yet to watch the greatest living director of Japanese yakuza as he paint the walls red? That’s pretty much the truth of it, sorry.
I thought I should tell you not because I’m compelled to publicly out myself as a no-good no-Beatnik, but because you should know that in approaching Brother I can’t do so with reference to Kitano’s oeuvre. (‘oeuvre’ is a French word which means ‘ the other stuff he’s done’. It’s the sort of word you read a lot, but never hear spoken. That’s because if you use the word ‘oeuvre’ in a conversation which is not actually being held in French then people are likely to call you a wanker. If those people have just watched Brother, they are likely to call you a wanker and then jam a broken chopstick up each of your nostrils straight into the soft tissue of your living brain. And you’ll deserve it, too.)
So, don’t look for insightful comparisons to Hana-Bi or Sonatine or any of that other stuff that’s on my list of movies that I will watch on a rainy day. (At this point in my film-viewing life I can say with certainty that that day would have to be *so* long and *so* rainy that I would be better advised to spend it building an enormous floating wooden structure, large enough to house two of every surviving animal species on the planet, plus a 600-seater theatre with digital sound).
(Interesting fact: In the Brother credits, it states “Handguns provided by Gibbons”. I don’t think we should be arms-dealing with primates, do you?)
I better stop stalling and write this damn review already.
Brotheris a sort of Coming To America story, instead the guy coming is a yakuza, and his American Dream is to make a boatload of cash via unspecified criminal activity which generally boils down to shooting someone else in the head. The blood in this film is bright, wet and red, but the humour is sharp, dry, and funeral suit black.
Our model yakuza is Sakamoto (played by director Kitano), or more commonly Aniki (“brother”). He’s the kind of guy who says little, tips handsomely, walks straight down the line, and if you get in his way he’ll glass you, step over your writhing body and then keep right on going. The death of his Big Boss in Japan (corpse #2) prompts a power reshuffle that leaves him with the choice of being in a coffin or being in LA. You might personally prefer the former option, but our antihero takes the latter, as he can look up his little brother. Said little brother is not dutifully in college as planned, but instead is “into some bad business with some black guys”. Corpses #4 through #67 collect their toe tags as a direct result of two light slaps to the younger brother’s face in the presence of the older brother. (Ooh, hang on, I don’t know if there was enough left of corpse #43 to attach a tag to).
This is the general pattern: from little things big things grow. Aniki’s trail of carnage is a dotted red line through every major demographic of the American crime fraternity, starting in the ‘Hood and ending in Little Sicily. Said red line resides on a graph which does an xy co-ordinate mapping LEVEL OF AMBITION to INSANE LEVEL OF RISK. The further you go up that dotted line, the less chance you have of getting back. The upside is you get to wear progressively nattier suits.
Through this all the film contrasts different forms of brotherly love, be that between brothers by blood, brothers by business, or brothers by “Wossup?” Aniki is so doggedly loyal in this regard that you can’t help but like the fella, even though he has an alarming ability to find a man’s aorta with a switchblade in less time than it takes you or me to blink.
All of this jolly chat about body count and aortas and toe tags and such is my way of saying, man oh man, this film sure is one violent sonofabitch. If you’re not down for that, then maybe you should check to see if you can get into a session of Harry Potter instead. Some of the harshest violence in it is self-inflicted (that brother thing again, but taken to an illogical and hella messy degree). And all of it is LOUD. Handguns are like cannons. Kicks are like wrecking balls. Punches are like car crashes. Car crashes are like – well, like car crashes. I think the punches are louder.
Did I like it?
Oh yeah. The rise and rise of Aniki and his crew is rivetting, in a hardboiled kind of way.
Did I love it?
Not quite. Everything is so larger and bloodier than life it crosses into its own crime film world and is hard pressed to get back. One character even remarks “Is that a line from a yakuza movie?”. And where else does the final showdown take place in a collect-the-set American crime film than out west? The other aspect is, that title again is Brother, not Sister. Everyone is such a stoic hard-bitten crime archetype that there’s not much room to get into the skin of their characters – in this regard a surprise coda warms up the entire film, but you have to go through many a slaying to get there.
Will you like it?
Sure, if the above piques your interest without turning your stomach.
Will you love it?
Dunno. Depends. How many Takeshi Kitano films have you seen?…